The disease Huanglongbing (HLB) might as well be a four-letter word for the citrus industry. Uncontrolled, this tree-killing menace could one day eliminate the future availability of your favorite juice or peelable fruit unless solutions are found soon.
This challenge for the citrus industry could perhaps justify the ostrich approach - burying one’s head in the sand - or just walking away. Yet most growers are fighters with a deep passion for agriculture and perseverance as they try to survive the toughest challenges.
The answer - to hopefully one day bury HLB six feet under in a concrete tomb - lies largely in agricultural research. Public and private scientists are working at warp speed to develop a plethora of ideas and solutions.
To this point, citrus growers are counting on these scientists to save their industry.
Review the article in the July 4 issue of Western Farm Press magazine or the online version to learn more current HLB research designed to either manage the disease at controllable levels or perhaps one day eliminate it. Unfortunately, there is no single ‘silver bullet’ yet to quash the disease but there are many ways to reduce its impact.
It’s often said in agriculture that plant breeding is the best way to rid crops from pest and disease threats, or at least economically control it. Texas A&M plant breeder Erik Mirkov is one example of those working toward that.
Mirkov has inserted multiple proteins from spinach called defensins into young citrus plants to create transgenic, genetically-engineered (GMO) citrus trees which act as a protective shield against HLB. Field tests suggest either complete HLB immunity or extremely high resistance.
The medical community encourages consumers to consume fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet. It remains to be seen whether consumers would drink OJ and eat fresh citrus created through GMO science.
Would consumers say no to a product that is good for their health just because it’s genetically modified?
Solutions to HLB are around the corner. Let’s hope it arrives in time to keep the western citrus industry from experiencing the similar devastation faced by citrus growers in Florida.
It’s a tough road ahead for the citrus industry. Let’s hope science will write the final chapter on the disease and bring final closure to the HLB issue once and for all.